July 2010 Issue
Amazing Tales in Columbus
Collectors can consult their yellow pages at PulpFest 2010.
This month, an army of dastardly villains and a legion of stalwart heroes will descend on central Ohio. Bullets will fly, galaxies will collide, hardboiled detectives will clash with troublesome dames, mad scientists will threaten world domination, demons will emerge from hidden realms and the fate of humanity will hang in the balance.
No, it’s not Armageddon. It’s PulpFest 2010, which takes place July 30–Aug. 1 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Columbus. Now in its second year, the annual convention is a gathering of collectors, dealers, preservationists and fans of vintage pulp fiction — the cheap escapist entertainment of the early- to mid-20th century, whose pages spawned cynical sleuths Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, fearless crime-fighting from Doc Savage and The Shadow and daring space heroics by the Lensman and Captain Future.
From the very beginning, the magazines were known as “the pulps” because of the low-grade paper on which they were printed. The stories inside were lightning-paced and less than polished, the covers eye-popping and a little on the lurid side. And while much of it was admittedly disposable hackwork, the pulp era was also the spawning ground for such enduring genre writers as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Zane Grey. In many cases, the magazine titles themselves — Ace Detective, Planet Stories, Outlaws of the West, Weird Tales
— painted a vivid picture of the kinds of yarns on the pages inside.
“For a long time, pulp fiction was considered to be less than quality literature — at least a couple steps below the John Steinbecks and the Ernest Hemingways — and in many cases, that was true,” says Bellbrook resident and PulpFest organizer Jack Cullers. “But over time, we’ve come to realize that the quality of some of the writing is considerably higher than people originally gave it credit for.
“And,” he adds, “aside from the stories themselves, there’s a lot of history to be learned by understanding the lives and the careers of the authors who wrote them.”
PulpFest planners counted more than 350 attendees last year — not just octogenarians who witnessed the pulp fiction heyday firsthand, but also a healthy number of baby boomers, Gen-Xers and twentysomethings who caught the pulp bug from their fathers and grandfathers. An even larger turnout is expected this year due to some aggressive local advertising and promotion.
“We got a lot of people from the East and West coasts last year, and some from Canada as well,” says Cullers. “I also saw a lot more women last year than I ever saw at any of the other pulp conventions elsewhere in the past. A lot of them are wives, of course, but many are not.”
They come to PulpFest to buy and sell, but also to attend lectures and panel discussions examining the history of the pulps and some of the more prominent writers of the period. An auction of single items and collections promises to be among the high points of the weekend.
More than just a gathering of fans and collectors of yellowed and crumbling old fiction magazines, PulpFest offers a window into the origins of popular fiction as we know it today, says Eric Johnson, associate curator of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at The Ohio State University.
“When we think about modern genre fiction, we think about people like Tom Clancy, Stephen King, John Grisham or Dan Brown,” says Johnson, who gave a presentation on pulp history at last year’s convention. “Seventy or 80 years ago, all of these people would have been pulp writers.”
In the 1930s, most pulps cost a dime on the newsstands. Today, some can command $50 to $100 on the collectible market –– sometimes more, depending on age, rarity, physical condition and other factors. But for the budding fan at PulpFest whose pockets may not be that deep, the advent of inexpensive publishing technology has made attractive pulp reprints available for as little as $12 apiece.
“You have knowledgeable pulp fans who have the old magazines and know what the good stories are,” says Ed Hulse, a PulpFest organizer from Morris Plains, New Jersey. “Combine that with desktop-publishing software and print-on-demand technology, and you have the formula for reintroducing a lot of great stuff that has been out of print for, in some cases, as much as 100 years.”
And, says OSU’s Johnson, PulpFest attendees and their ilk have played an important role in the academic research of an important segment of popular American literature.
“These are the people who have kept the awareness of this kind of fiction alive for decades,” he explains. “Without them putting together their fan publications, indexing the works of authors, indexing the contents of long-lost pulp magazines, story papers and dime novels, we wouldn’t have the foundation we have now to start doing formal academic studies of [this form of literature].
“We owe a lot,” Johnson adds, “to the collecting community in this field.”
For more information, call 937/848-3516 or visit pulpfest.com